You’ll Be Happy You Kept The Negative!

My family narrative is coming along. I have found plenty of information on the mine explosion that killed my 2x great-grandfather, John McKamey, especially in newspapers. But outside of a few census records, I can’t find much on his wife, Edith (Hightower) McKamey. So what do I do with the searches that didn’t yield any information? I log them and cite the sources.

How many times have you done a search and experienced that familiar “deja vu” feeling? The only way to keep from performing the same search over and over is to keep track of everything you find.. and just as important, everything you don’t find.

crumpled papers and sticky notes

In my blog post, “Widows and Orphans,” I wrote that much more research was needed on Edith. Since she is part of my family narrative, I started looking into her. There’s not much on her life outside of census records and a marriage record to John. Up until now, I have found nothing on her death date or place, so that’s my goal.

Since it’s more efficient to make a research plan before you actually start diving into the records, here’s what I came up with:

Edith was alive in 1910, a widow in that year’s U.S. census. She lived in Coal Creek, Tennessee with her son, Oscar, two daughters, and two grandsons.1

  • Search the 1920 census in Coal Creek, Anderson, Tennessee.
  • Look in Find A Grave for a memorial.
  • Use FamilySearch to see if she has a death certificate.

When you make a research plan, you want to limit your list to just a few items. If you make a long list and find your answer right off the bat, you would have wasted valuable time. You can always add to your list if you need to.

The first item…search the 1920 census in Coal Creek, TN. I did a name search and found nothing. I looked for the children who lived with her in 1910 to see if they were now head of household…nothing. I looked at all the other children in their 1920 census entries to see if she lived with them. Nothing. I didn’t feel like she would have ventured away from Anderson County, so I searched page by page in the census for Coal Creek. Again, nothing. I broadened my search by name and came up empty. So I logged and cited these items and moved on to the next item.

John and his three sons who perished in the Fraterville Mine explosion are buried in Wilson Cemetery, Anderson County, Tennessee. All other members of the family who were still in the area are buried in Leach Cemetery in the same county. I looked in both cemeteries in Find A Grave and Edith does not have a memorial. I then did a general name search for Anderson County and found nothing. And finally, a name search for any cemetery in the country yielded no memorial.

My third item…search for a death certificate. Ancestry has a record set called “Tennessee, U.S. Death Records, 1908-1965.”2 She is not included.

I then thought of searching for an obituary (adding to my list). I turned to for that and again, came up empty.

For purposes of turning in my narrative on time this week, I will have to wait for another day to think of more sources to search for Edith’s death information. At least I know the sources where she is not listed and I will not search those again.

Genealogy tip: Your log is for you. Put in as much information as you need to keep track of where you’ve searched, so you don’t do that same search again.

1 1910 U.S. census, Anderson County, Tennessee, population schedule, Coal Creek, dwelling 62, family 62, Mrs. Edith McKamey, p. 3B; digital image, (
collections/7884/images/4449669_00111?pId=157526478: accessed 20 Oct 2020), image 6; citing NARA microfilm publication T624.

2“Tennessee, U.S. Death Records, 1908-1965,” negative search for Edith McKamey, all dates inclusive; Ancestry ( accessed 16 April 2023); citing Tennessee State Library and Archives.

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